1446. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 22 April 1808

1446. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 22 April 1808 ⁠* 

Keswick. April 22. 1808.

My dear Scott

Your letter followed me to London, – the hope which it held out that we might meet there, & the endless round of occupations in which I was involved during the whole nine weeks of my absence prevented me from thanking you for Marmion, [1]  so soon as I ought, & should otherwise have done.

Half the poem I had read at Hebers before my own copy arrived. I went punctually to breakfast with him, & he was long enough dressing for me to <to let me> devour so much of it. – The story is made of better materials than the Lay, [2]  yet they are not so well fitted together. On As a whole it has not pleased me well <so much>, in parts it has pleased me more. There is nothing so finely conceived in your former poem as the death of Marmion, – there is nothing finer in its conception any where.

The introductory epistles I did not wish away, because as poems they gave me great pleasure, but I wished them at the end of the volume, or at the beginning, anywhere except where they were. My taste is perhaps peculiar in disliking all interruptions in narrative poetry. When the poets lets his story sleep & talks of in his own person it has to me the same sort of unpleasant effect that is produced at the end of an Act; when you are alive to know what follows, & lo – down comes the curtain & the fiddlers begin with their abominations. The general opinion is with me in this particular instance.

I am highly gratified by your the manner in which you speak of Kirke Whites Remains. [3]  That book has been received to my hearts desire. The edition (750) sold in less than three months, & there is every probability that it will obtain a steady sale, so as to produce something considerable to his mother & sisters. [4]  I asked Jeffray to befriend this poor boy when he was living, by noticing his little volume, & he told me he would look for it: perhaps he forgot it, – perhaps he thought it was befriending him to let him pass unmolested. [5]  It is not very likely that he will ‘spit his venom in a dead-mans ear’ nor is it of much consequence. The main sale of the book will lie among the religious public, & the Edinburgh review is in their Index Expurgatorius. [6] 

I saw Frere [7]  in London, & he has promised to let me print his translations from the Poema del Cid. They are admirably done, indeed I never saw any thing so difficult to do, & done so excellently, except your supplement to Sir Tristram. [8]  I do not believe that any man has a greater command of language & versification than myself, & yet this task of giving a specimen of that wonderful Poem I shrank from, fearing the difficulty. At present I am putting together the materials of my introduction, which with the supplementary notes will take about three months in preparing & printing, – at least it will be as long before the book can be published. The price of paper stops all my other press-work for the present.

My <So much of my> life passes so much in this blessed retirement, that when I go to London the effect is a little like what Nourjahad used to find after one of his long naps. [9]  I find a woeful difference of political opinion between myself & most of those persons who have hitherto held the same feelings with me, – & yet it should seem that they have been sleeping [MS torn] the great events of these latter years, not I. There is a base & cowardly feeling abroad, which would humble this country at the feet of France. This feeling I have every where been combating with vehemence, but as at the same time I have execrated with equal vehemence the business of Copenhagen. [10]  Ever like my Ishmael-like my hand has been against every body, & every bodys hand against me. Wordsworth is the only man who agrees with me on both points, or whom I require <however> no other sanction to convince me that I am right. Coleridge justifies the Danish attack on Denmark, but he justifies it upon individual testimony of hostile intentions on the part of that court & that testimony by no means amounts to proof in my judgement – But what is done is done; & the endless debates upon the subject which have no other meaning & can have no other end than that of harrassing the ministry, disgust me, as they do every one who has the honour of England at heart. Such a system here makes the publicity of debate a nuisance, & will terminate in putting a stop to it.

Is there any hope of seeing you this year at the Lakes? I should much like to show you Kehama the Almighty. [11]  During my circuit I fell in with Savage Landor, the Author of Gebir, [12]  – to whom I spake of p my projected series of mythological poems, & said also for what reason the project had been laid aside. He besought me to go on with them, & said he would print them at his expense. Without the least thought of accepting this princely offer, it has stung me to the very core; & as the bite of the tarantula has no cure but dancing, so will there be none but singing for this. Great poets have no envy; – little ones are full of it. I doubt whether any man ever criticised a good poem maliciously, unless he had written a bad one himself, & I would lay a wager that Jeffray has written made verses. – I beg my remembrances to Mrs Scott

yrs truly

R Southey


* Address: To/ Walter Scott Esqr/ Advocate/ Edinburgh/ <aucasheill/ &/ By/ Sealkirk> [deletion and readdress in another hand]
Postmark: AP/ 25
Watermark: shield/ 1803/ T BOTFIELD
Endorsement: Southey/ Keswick 22d April/ 1808
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 3877. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 139–142. BACK

[1] Scott’s new poem (1808). BACK

[2] The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805). BACK

[3] The Remains of Henry Kirke White, of Nottingham (1807), which were edited by Southey. BACK

[4] Henry Kirke White’s mother, Mary (d. 1833) and sisters Hannah (bap. 1799–1813), Frances Moria (1791–1854) and Catherine Bailey (1794–1889). BACK

[5] See Southey to Neville White, 9 March 1807, Letter 1284. BACK

[6] Meaning a list of books to be censored before they can be read by Roman Catholics, but applied here to all the ‘religious public’. BACK

[7] J. H. Frere (1769–1846; DNB): poet, diplomat, Hispanist, Frere had parodied Southey’s radical ballads in ‘The Friend of Humanity and the Knife-grinder’ in the Antijacobin (1797). Three of Frere’s translations from the Poema del Cid were appended to Southey’s edition of the Chronicle of the Cid (1808). BACK

[8] Southey had praised Scott’s Sir Tristram: A Metrical Romance by Thomas of Ercildoune (1804) in the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805), 555–563. BACK

[9] The protagonist of the ‘Persian’ tale by Frances Sheridan (1724–1766; DNB), The History of Nourjahad (1767). BACK

[10] In September 1807, British forces had bombarded Copenhagen, then neutral, to prevent Napoleon gaining possession of the Danish fleet. BACK

[11] An early name for what became The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[12] Landor’s oriental poem of 1798. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)